Black Mirror (2011-) Analysis

Like any other organism on the planet, humans are constantly evolving and adapting to better survive in their environment and make life generally easier. While most of these adaptions are not spontaneous and can only really be seen if one looks at the human race broadly, technology acts as a way to provide rapid change in the way humans interact with one another and understand themselves. In most cases, the idea of evolution typically means that progression is occurring; as a result technology is marveled in our society as the penultimate article of advancement. Millions of years ago, this technology was something as simple as stone tools, but today, technology means a whole lot more as humans venture into what historians are calling, the age of information. Since the implementation of the personal computer in the last few decades, technology has experienced unprecedented advancements and as a result humans today not only are strikingly different in the way they act compared to their counterparts 30 years ago, but most of the younger audience could not function in society if they were placed back in time 30 years ago. Humanities dependence on technology definitely carries advantages in the idea that everyone being so open to it allows for advancements to occur quickly. Although, maybe society should not be in such a rush to advance technology. This fear to rush the advancement of technology is the central theme that the television show Black Mirror explores.  In order for Black Mirror, a show in the science-fiction genre that features futuristic technology, to carry any weight in the real world and emotionally affect its viewers, it heavily relies on the concept of realism to make audiences aware the issues that are affecting the characters in the show could one day affect them. By understanding how the creators of Black Mirror are able to manipulate the audience through realism one can then apply this tactic to any fictional concept and allow it to carry significance in the physical world. 

Maybe humanity's reliance on technology is not always a good thing?

Maybe humanity's reliance on technology is not always a good thing?

To fully understand the level of effort that is put into the show’s production, one must also understand the production style of the show. One of the largest differences in Black Mirror that sets it aside from most popular television shows is that it is made by the British production studio Channel 4, and not one of the typical Hollywood studios. As a result, instead of having a dozen episodes that come out at relatively the same time every year, a show may take a year or two off while seasons are very small at only a handful of episodes. In the context of Black Mirror, over the course of three years the show only had two seasons, which contained three episodes each. As a result, the creators of the show were able to invest more time and money into each episode in order to make sure that every shot, line of dialogue, or sound effect was exactly the way they wanted it to be so it could help the audience better understand the themes it was trying to promote. With this level of intricacy put into the show, once one started to dig deeper into why and how the show is able to effect audiences, it becomes strikingly apparent that the level of realism the show emotes is the core answer. 

Realism is the idea that  a television show should model real life as closely as possible 

Realism is the idea that  a television show should model real life as closely as possible 

In an effort to fully understand the realism style of Black Mirror, research had to not only be done on the show itself, but on realism as a style in order to determine the elements that make it up. The basic idea of realism that television should mimic life as closely as possible. In order to achieve this, content cannot be water downed in any fashion and instead the viewer must be exposed to the dirt and grime of the real world instead of the glossy well-polished television world that they are use to. What this means is that every element that goes into making a show must be kept as natural as possible. For example, while in television characters do not often talk over one another since it can confuse the viewer, in a show following realism dialogue is often quick paced and overlaid on top of itself since that is how conversations are in real life take place. In addition, while in most television shows, the camera is kept relatively stable on a tripod or dolly with only minimal camera movement to track actors, in realism the camera is often hand held and never stable in order to give the audience the impression that they are in the situation themselves and watching it unfold in front of them. With the common traits associated with realism understood; the way in which Black Mirror manipulates the audience through realism can now be fully explored and quantified. 

Black Mirror does not shy away from showing harsh depictions of life

Black Mirror does not shy away from showing harsh depictions of life

When discussing realism in television shows today is a moot point as most of the ideas around realism and television has already been explored to its fullest. Yet, as previously mentioned, what sets Black Mirror apart from the herd is that it is not just another typical drama that entices its viewers by presenting an isolated look into what is going on in the world around them but instead offers a realistic look into a fictional future. While the idea of showing off a dystopian future seems to be the easiest way to have your show not match real life, Black Mirror does so smartly. By opening each episode not with the marvels of the new age but with unflattering candid looks into the life’s of the show’s central characters to pull the audience in and make them believe that what they are seeing is plausible. Each of the central characters in the show is extremely flawed, if they are not struggling to make ends meet, then they are lacking self-confidence, or they are extremely reliant on someone else to be the source of their happiness. The reason that this trait is essential to the show is because by having a flawed character that is not perfect the audience is able to relate to them and sympathize to their issues like they typically would with a normal person. In most of the episodes such as “15 Million Merits” the central character is apathetic and just going through the motions of his life. In fact, the opening act to the episode is literally the audience observing his mundane day to day actions that highlight to the audience that this is not some glamorized representation of the future but one that is very similar and boring to the same one that we live everyday with the addition of a slight modification that exploits humanity’s connection with technology. If the show instead opened up highlighting same flashy new benefit to life as a result of the invention, then the audience would immediately see the show as a science fiction fantasy that has no bearing on the real world and their life. This shows that without using realism to build the traits of the show’s characters then the central themes that the show tries to propagate would fall flat as the audience would not begin to question themselves if they saw the show as a fantasy. However, while the picture that the audience is watching must be in the form of realism the frame of said picture must also follow suit in order for the futuristic society to really be sold. As a result, the next aspect in Black Mirror up for discussion is the show’s cinematography. 

The show creates realism by filling the world with life like characters 

The show creates realism by filling the world with life like characters 

In television and film, scenes are usually shot using well thought out camera work that is meant to direct the viewers gaze onto a particular person or object in order to make them think a certain way. While the technique of careful camera work is highly successful and something that has allowed the medium to thrive for decades, it is not the best method to tell every story. In real life people constantly scan their environment until they lock onto something that sparks their interest, this means that in order for a show to truly follow as close to real life as possible then the camera work cannot be orchestrated and must be free flowing. Luckily the creator’s of Black Mirror understood this as well and use hand held cinematography throughout. This way, when the audience watches the show the feeling as if they are watching the scenes unfold live in front of them is achieved since there does not appear to be any rhyme or reason as to why the camera is tracking the subjects the way that it is. By having the show framed in this realistic sense, the audience is able to suspend their disbelief of the futuristic inventions the show is promoting and instead just easily accept them as the next step that is to come in our society. 

By having hand held shots the audience is able to immerse themselves in what they are watching

By having hand held shots the audience is able to immerse themselves in what they are watching

While most television audiences are obsessed with realism in shows such as CSI and Cold Case, these depictions of realism are relatively easy to create and not nearly as impressive compared to the of realism of Black Mirror which is able to show the future without the audience thinking they are watching a fantasy show. This is because the creators of the show understand not only the importance of creating flawed characters and slowly drawing out their lives in front of the audience, but also the power that comes in the way the camera shows these characters through the audience. If one really wants to understand the power that realism has over the audiences perception of a television show they should not study a crime show that uses realism, but a fantasy show that evokes realism because these shows like Black Mirror absolutely need realism in order to work.